Loss

Regardless of where you place yourself on the political spectrum, I urge you to read Nicholas Eberstadt’s recent essay on the state of the United States in the 21st century at Commentary, “Our Miserable 21st Century”:

On the morning of November 9, 2016, America’s elite—its talking and deciding classes—woke up to a country they did not know. To most privileged and well-educated Americans, especially those living in its bicoastal bastions, the election of Donald Trump had been a thing almost impossible even to imagine. What sort of country would go and elect someone like Trump as president? Certainly not one they were familiar with, or understood anything about.

Whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, the 2016 election was a sort of shock therapy for Americans living within what Charles Murray famously termed “the bubble” (the protective barrier of prosperity and self-selected associations that increasingly shield our best and brightest from contact with the rest of their society). The very fact of Trump’s election served as a truth broadcast about a reality that could no longer be denied: Things out there in America are a whole lot different from what you thought.

Yes, things are very different indeed these days in the “real America” outside the bubble. In fact, things have been going badly wrong in America since the beginning of the 21st century.

I think he makes a pretty good case that something has gone seriously awry, producing economic and health evidence to support it.

Reasonable people can differ in their opinions on the explanation for this. My own view is that significant proportions of the American people have rejected the heretofore prevailing mythology and ethos of America, without which, since we don’t have ties of blood or shared history, there isn’t much left of America.

Additionally, roughly a sixth of Americans arrived here from somewhere else. As I’ve documented here previously, immigrants may not arrive on our shores with much in the way of material possessions but they do carry their myths and their ethos with them and, with the loss of confidence in our own myths and ethos, they don’t see any compelling reason to change.

Keep in mind that when John Dewey laid the foundation for the American public school system more than a century ago it was under conditions that resemble our present ones more than any time in the intervening years. The explicit object of that system was to cultivate that shared mythology and ethos and inculcate it into the children of immigrants. How can you inculcate in others something in which you do not believe?

I presume the retort to Mr. Eberstadt’s observations will be that at least we have NetFlix, Facebook, and Google.

38 comments… add one
  • Steve

    We on the left have been talking about inequality for years and how social mobility had become very limited. We noted that that health care access was decreasing and that in some areas health was deteriorating as a consequence. Now a few writers on the right and a few libertarians are discovering this and it is a big deal. Go figure.

    To be fair, the left concentrated more heavily on trying to fix these issues for minority groups. (The ACA being an exception, but then the white working class largely rejected this because it came from Obama.)

    The real irony here is that the party which has most heavily supported the policies supporting and promoting these inequalities has been put in charge.

    Steve

  • I am not on the right or the left but I have been speaking and writing about these things for decades and documentably on this site for over a decade. Don’t fool yourself into believing that any single ideology or party is the infallible source of Truth.

  • Andy

    I thought it was overall a good article, but do have a few criticisms:

    – A lot of comparisons are made to the late 20th century, but the author does not account for the 1990’s bubble which was an aberration, not a trend. I think the overall points are still valid, however.

    – He uses the term “real America” which I absolutely hate. It is needless divisie, weakens his arguments considerably and makes me want to check sources to ensure there isn’t severe cherrypicking. At least he sticks to problem identification instead of trotting out the boilerplate AEI “solutions.”

  • Modulo Myself

    Netflix, Facebook, and Google are the end results of a faith in technocracy and numbers, along with a total indifference to human needs. And people who have spent a lifetime worrying about entitlements as some sort of satanic force, or who think that market logic demands you shutter a factory and relocate down south (first S. Carolina and then Mexico) not only for the benefit of the factory’s owner but for the workers you are laying off, because if you don’t respect the logic of the market, everyone loses–these people should be hounded out off politics and the world by any means necessary.

    It’s amazing what’s missing in the piece. Piketty, for example, thinks that capitalism is inherently flawed because it promotes investment over growth. And he went through the numbers and proved it, and the vast silence about his claims now–like he’s lost in 2014–points to the fact that nobody in power really wants to talk about how we have a losing system.

  • michael reynolds

    What Steve, Andy and Modulo said. Once again our baseline is the entirely non-average time of post-war America. Does earlier data not exist? Because it is ridiculous to imagine that in a multi-polar, peaceful world we are going to see the kind of growth we experienced when half the world was burned to the ground, or the kind of job growth we achieved when the populations of Eastern Europe, the USSR, China and to a great extent India, were all hors de combat due to ideological infections.

    Now conservatives suddenly discover that we have problems because now it involves white people so it’s serious. We used to have to fight a war on drugs, locking ’em all up; now we need compassion and treatment and understanding because the skin color of the drug-abusers has changed. Oookay. Sure.

    There are some glaring holes in the analysis. All of a sudden in 2000 everything went to hell? Gosh, how could that have happened? I don’t suppose the groundwork was laid earlier? Nah, because earlier gets close to Saint Ronnie O’Reagan and we must never question the Gipper. At Commentary you can throw George W. Bush under the bus, his father as well, maybe, but not Saint Ronnie. Saint Ronnie who dramatically escalated the war on unions. Saint Ronnie who took what had been a vague and nebulous notion of ‘the American dream’ and made it all about money, money, money. Saint Ronnie who stigmatized economic losers as cheats and thieves and hangers-on, blaming poor blacks or Hispanics for their own poverty. Who was it who cut taxes and funneled a trillion dollars to the already rich because it was all going to trickle down? Who taught us that government is the enemy? Eh? Who was that invisible man?

    Now it’s white people having economic distress, so suddenly we don’t get stories of ‘welfare queens.’ White people can’t possibly be welfare queens. Taking Medicaid’s Oxy and selling it on the street? Those darn, shiftless. . . um, white people. No, white drug addicts who rip off the government are a crisis demanding action and compassion and government programs. Right. Whatever.

    The economic and cultural disease has been around for a long time, it just mostly struck minorities so it was something we needed to crack down on, suppress, condemn, punish, use as a dog whistle for political advantage. Now the disease reaches white people and we need the exact opposite of what we needed for minorities.

    I’m not denying there’s a problem. Just taking a moment to point out the staggering hypocrisy of white Americans and especially conservatives. A great start would be for people like the author to stop covering up for their side’s contributions to the problem. This did not start in 2000. If it started anywhere it was in the 1980’s, because that’s when Americans started believing that the rich would trickle, just be patient, we’ll give them so much money they’ll have to trickle. . . still waiting. . .

  • Modulo Myself

    Let’s not forget white Protestant Evangelicals. I grew up around people who professed to believe that they would be raptured from Earth, leaving all of the degenerates to fight it out while the Antichrist ruled .

    This insane belief (along with many, many others) was largely encouraged by conservatives, because it showed some sort of moral recognition about good and evil.

    That now the rapture seems to have lifted a ton of educated white people out of the heartland and into degenerate cities is not an irony that’s going away anytime soon.

  • CuriousOnlooker

    I referenced the article in an earlier thread (http://theglitteringeye.com/cold-war/#comment-687893). My speculation from then still stand (about the 1980’s USSR, about its effects on US politics).

    I’m surprised at the vitriol instead of the humble reflection I thought this article would trigger.

    One more sobering thought — I bet most of the posters here live in areas he says are in prosperity bubbles (including me) where most of the problems don’t seem to exist. But most of the statistics the referenced article uses are national ones (so its an average of the prosperous parts and the suffering parts). That implies either (a) the bubbles are a lot smaller part of the country then we think OR (b) things are really bad out there, as in cataclysm bad.

  • michael reynolds

    I’m surprised at the vitriol instead of the humble reflection I thought this article would trigger.

    None of this is Breaking News to anyone on the Left. We’ve been yelling about the poor and the working poor forever. What do you think Obamacare was about? Why do you think liberals like me raised our own taxes? Are we supposed to have some road to Damascus moment where the scales fall from our eyes? Hey: we weren’t the blind people. Conservatives did nothing but stigmatize poverty and working poverty when they were seen as black or brown issues. We’ve been the ones reiterating that the interests of poor black and brown were identical to the interests of poor whites.

    So, gosh, welcome conservatives to a slice of reality. Oh, look. . . reality was too much for conservatives so they elected a con man to keep telling them happy racist lies. Now they’re going to strip health care from millions of people, de-regulate banks, poison water supplies and shit on Muslims, transgender kids and Hispanics because yeah, that’ll help.

    Do let us know when conservatives are actually ready to address actual problems. I won’t hold my breath.

  • Ken Hoop

    http://theglitteringeye.com/loss/#comment-688072

    I missed the part here where you blamed multiculturalism uber white worker neolibs and their predecessors who took over the Democrat party which once served the white working class thus driving Euro-American workers into the arms of Reagan.

  • michael reynolds

    Ken:

    Bullshit. The GOP used dog whistle racism to keep the white worker separated from the black or brown worker. Whites left the Democrats because white people thought poverty was a black and brown thing. Now it’s a white thing, and Republicans double down on racism. It is absolutely vital to our GOP ruling class that workers be kept divided.

    The sickness is on the Right. We may be smug and annoying, but we did not need to be enlightened on poverty. Who stands for equal pay for women, who are half the population? Democrats. Who opposes? Republicans. Who pushes a ‘living wage?’ Democrats. Who pooh-poohs it? Republicans. Who cuts taxes for the rich? Republicans. Who pushes for greater regressivity? Republicans. Who tried to end extended unemployment payments? Republicans. Who threatens the health care of millions out of nothing but racist spite? Republicans. Who fought extending Medicare to working poor of all races? Republicans. Who fought unions? Republicans. Who were ready to sign on to a comprehensive immigration plan? Democrats. And opposed? Republicans.

    At every step, every action to reduce inequality, to reduce economic insecurity has come from the Democrats, while every piece of legislation designed to concentrate wealth and screw the working man comes from Republicans.

  • CuriousOnlooker

    If you want a more anecdotal companion piece to the statistics, read this https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/21/outside-coastal-bubbles-to-say-america-is-already-great-rings-hollow. What’s striking are the quotes by the Democrats in these places on how the past Democratic administration didn’t improve their lives. Not that Republicans did much for these folks either.

    I am not defending Conservatism. But here are facts, Liberals and Conservatives combined have held a monopoly on power for the last 16 years, neither side has gotten all its policy wishes but each got much (Tax cuts, Free Trade, Tax raises, DACA, Obamacare) and this is what we ended with, perhaps that is why the voters decided to take an extreme risk in voting for Trump?

    My own thinking is the problems are different from the ones the US had in 1980 or 1932, so the solutions will be different too. Indeed what were solutions to past problems may now be problems now.

  • michael reynolds

    Curious:

    This graf jumped out at me:

    It isn’t a more “real” America – a glib and offensive cliche – it is simply a different one. It is an America that values and experiences different things, emphasizing local community and faith, rather than career or educational status. It is an America that has been on a downward trajectory for decades, hurt by the loss of jobs and with downtowns emptied of energy and filled with drugs. It has made staying in these communities harder.

    Guess what? Those were dumb choices if what you’re demanding is an improved economic outlook. I long ago read a quote (which I will mangle) to the effect that money doesn’t go where it isn’t wanted. If faith is your priority, cool, it’s a free country. Ask Jesus for a raise. Ask your community for a job. Sit in freaking Youngstown waiting for 1975 to return.

    The people who made different choices – education, career, flexibility – are doing much better. Now the conservatives want government help. Now after vilifying it for decades. Now poor whites suddenly discover that the health care plan they despised because it came from a black liberal is the only thing standing between them and sickness or death.

    There’s only so much we can do to help people who make dumb choices.

  • Jan

    I’ve had a number of reservations about trump – during the primaries, the GE, and now in the initial weeks of his presidency. However, all I have to do is read Michael’s comments, representing the over- reactionary left, and I’m relieved the left lost in 2016.

  • Andy

    So, one of the longest-standing political bases for the Democratic party are suddenly transformed into “conservatives” who deserve what they get what they get for making bad choices. Interesting development.

  • Personally, I wouldn’t draw my dividing line at 2000 but somewhat earlier, say, 1990-1993, straddling the George H. W. Bush and Clinton Administrations. Mileposts include the Gulf War (we’ve been in a permanent state of war since then), the Chinese pegging the yuan to the dollar, and changes to corporate taxes governing executive compensation would set the growth in income of CEOs off to the races.

  • Guarneri

    Its a miracle conservatives are even capable of not putting their pants on backward in the morning………..

  • CuriousOnlooker

    The rot may have started in the 90’s, but it only became visible after the bubble popped in 2000.

    The 90’s bubble was unsustainable — but it was undeniable the social mood was optimistic and everyone thought prosperity was here and would last forever.

  • This is something I’ve written about in the past. For more than 10 years, between 1981 and shortly after the Plus! add-on for Windows 95 was released in 1995, American business made enormous investments in personal computer, server, and networking hardware and software and received very little from the investment. I can produce articles from the period remarking on the phenomenon and documenting it.

    The missing ingredient was Internet connectivity and when that was put on the desktop in a more or less durable fashion the investments began to pay off. Those were the origins of the Internet boom. Business investments over a period of years and Internet connectivity.

    The investments continued for a while as businesses dealt with the Y2K bug. When the level of business investment tapered off in 1999 the underlying weakness in the economy was revealed and we’ve had problems ever since.

  • steve

    Dave- I don’t think either party owns this exclusively, I just think it clear that conservatives have more strongly supported the policies that have resulted in inequality. Bill Clinton helped drag the party to the right, which aided and abetted the process. Obama continued, maybe accelerated, the emphasis on minorities and ignoring the white lower, middle class, with the noted exception of the ACA.

    Yup, I live in one of those nicer areas I guess. I do work in the poor areas. Our ICUs seem like they always have overdose patients. The pathology we see is just crazy. People ignore problems until they pretty much cannot be fixed. Sometimes it is like doing third world medicine (if the third world was all incredibly obese, had tattoos and smoked 2-3 ppd). OTOH, the people up here who have jobs and still care, are probably the most decent people you would want to meet. On the downside, you do have to like pirogies.

    Steve

  • You think you know pirogis? Chicago has the highest number of Poles of any city outside Poland and I live within walking distance of Chicago’s largest Polish neighborhood. Every grocery store hereabouts has a Polish food section.

  • BTW, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 which included the provisions that resulted in enormously increased executive salaries, was enacted by Democrats. In the House it passed 219-213 with no Republicans voting in favor. In the Senate it pass 51-50 with no Republicans voting in favor and Vice President Gore casting the tie-breaking vote.

    I think you’re confusing postures with policies. Both parties have supported policies that favored the highest income earners.

  • Modulo Myself

    Dave,

    Lol…The Democrats voted to raise taxes on the rich and Republicans were against it.

  • Andy

    Let’s not forget another irony – the Bush Tax Cuts. It was a bete noire for the left until almost of them were made permanent with strong Democratic support including President Obama. Most Republicans in the house voted against it.

    This is one reason I don’t identify with either party. They are hard-core when it comes to virtue signaling, but the only principle they seem to actually care about is political power.

  • I was infuriated by the Bush tax cuts and still am since, as I noted above, the recession of 2001-2002 was caused by a shortfall in business investment rather than a shortfall in consumer spending and they did practically nothing to boost business investment. That still hasn’t been addressed.

  • Module Myself:

    Yup. That’s the problem with opposition parties. And you’ve got it wrong. They lowered aggregate taxes on CEO compensation.

  • steve

    How’s the duck blood soup out there? My son likes it. Also, I had no idea how many kinds of kielbasa there are till I started working in coal country.

    Steve

  • CStanley

    I don’t think either party owns this exclusively, I just think it clear that conservatives have more strongly supported the policies that have resulted in inequality

    Why is that worse than liberals paying lip service to being the party of the poor and working but putting in place policies that have worsened their situations? It’s funny how the left loves to point out hypocrisy of the right but won’t call out their own for it.

  • CStanley

    You think you know pirogis? Chicago has the highest number of Poles of any city outside Poland and I live within walking distance of Chicago’s largest Polish neighborhood. Every grocery store hereabouts has a Polish food section.

    I’m envious! I do make a pretty mean pierogi myself but they’re a lot of work. We do have a butcher who makes kielbasa (he’s puzzled about our preference for fresh rather than smoked- I’ve been trying to figure out if that was NY vs Chicago style…do they mainly eat the smoked style there?)

    @steve- my dad used to love to regale us with detailed stories of getting sent to the butcher to get the duck’s blood. We cringed about the gory details of that process but I think what disgusted us most was that they put prunes in the czarnina. Blood soup was bad but blood soup with prunes just put it over the top.

  • Modulo Myself

    I grew up in NE Pa, which is also pierogi country. But the pierogis there are pretty Americanized–they’re either fried or sauteed and they aren’t very delicate, sweet, or even savory. They’re much less tender dumpling and more appetizer.

    There’s a great Ukrainian diner in NYC. For 11 or 12 dollars you get a bowl of borscht, varenyky (eg pierogis) and a stuffed cabbage. The varenyky are amazing.

  • Andy

    During my days in college all the Russian language students and professors would have a slavic food pot luck. Most of the Russian department were actual Russian immigrants, so there was a lot of good stuff (especially the home-flavored vodkas). Being a dumb-ass 20 year old, one year I decided to make whole wheat pelmenis from scratch thinking they would be a healthy option. Everyone was charitably polite at their awfulness.

  • CStanley

    especially the home-flavored vodkas

    Krupnik-honey flavored vodka- is our Polish version and my brother has created a nice recipe.

  • Modulo Myself

    I love Russian food but it’s what happens when your country is ruled by Mongolian nomads with Persian tastes and then by French-speaking native aristocrats.

  • How’s the duck blood soup out there?

    I love czarnina but my wife can’t stand the stuff. It’s a mixed marriage 😉

  • michael reynolds

    Andy:

    Think maybe circumstances changed? Tax cuts that made no sense in a time of plenty were vital in a meltdown?

  • Andy

    Michael,

    The vote to make the cuts permanent was in January 2013, not during the meltdown. President Obama did sign a two year extension to the cuts in 2010 during the lame duck session with bipartisan support (the Democrats still technically controlled both houses and there was considerable liberal opposition). The vote to make most of the cuts permanent came the day after the extension expired in 2013.

    So the timing had to do with sunset provisions and political factors.

  • Andy

    But the bigger point is that no one talks about them anymore because their political usefulness as a cudgel came to an end. All the arguments on either side about the supposedly good or bad effects ceased to matter politically. The partisans who thought they were terrible have shut up, so what does that tell us? Similarly, the reversion of marginal rates to 39.5% is not discussed by Republicans because many of them voted for it.

    So the first principle for partisans in this case (and many others) is not good governance or rational tax policy, it’s getting a tactical advantage over the other party – one that can be forgotten and discarded when the battle is over. Not much has changed on that score as we’ve seen views on both sides “evolve” to fit whatever gives a perceived partisan advantage.

    There are very few people with actual principles when it comes to these questions. Dave is one of them – he’s been consistent all along but he’s in the minority.

  • Oh, they’re consistent all right. It’s just that the consistency has little or nothing to do with any idealistic impulses or solving the problems at hand.

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